I was looking at some Fantasy Roleplay stuff and was reminded of Foucoult’s “The Order of Things”. I know – you too, right?!
Taking another look at the taxonomies of the creatures inhabiting fantasy worlds, through the lens of Foucoult’s ideas, I am immediately struck by the decidedly mechanistic world view of the creators of the D&D game. From the beginning of FRP gaming, numerous authors develop elaborate evolutions of everything from orcs to dragons and pixies. “Dragon” an organ of TSR/Hasbro or whatever it is now (Isn’t all publishing ultimately owned by MacGraw Hill and Bertelsmann now anyway?) had a column ‘the ecology of the …’ which detailed after the manner of an article in National Geographic, the habitat, habits and mechanics of the various bizarre creatures found in the game. The schizoid nature of this discourse ought to be readily apparent. Instead of a modern equivalent of a medieval bestiary with fabulous creatures listed, we’re treated to an absurd attempt to make fable conform to scientific systems of classification.
This, to me is taking things down a blind alley that wastes everyone’s time but at the same time reinforces a modern ideological paradigm that’s if not as fallible and myopic as the dogma of popes and imams, then nearly so.
Mythic creatures have their genesis either in the fertile imaginations of our forebears or in some sort of Otherworld occupied by gray aliens, brownies and kelpies and sasquatch. In either case assigning them detailed cladistic analysis or composing studies of their growth cycles and mating habits is just piling a logical absurdity on top of a literary fantasy.
If this silliness were contained within the cultural phenomenon of roleplay gaming, then it would only be of interest within that milieu. The demands of the Holy Mother Market being what they are however, popular entertainments have spawned vast categories of pulp fiction novels that incorporate very faithfully the disjointed mythic constructs outlined briefly above. Characters are immersed in a world which would be recognized by Descartes but with a thin veneer of Grimm painted on for its effect. Entire cosmologies operate like Corporate organigrams, cause and effect seamlessly flowing. The Gods are like power station operators demanding prayer and emotional energy as opposed to faith in some inner mystery. Mystery, in fact – the central pulsating core of actual real world religions throughout time (and very likely space as well) is just left like a changeling goblin baby squawling on the doorstep, yet studiously ignored – a source of embarassment. People construct systems to explain not thunder and lightning or the reasons why apples fall from trees, but to get at the heart flattening Mystery. Ontological structures give purpose. Including the “science” of Dawkins and Penn Gillette. Modern Aggro-Atheism simply makes statistical probability into a type of demiurge. People still want something to buy into, even if it’s No-Thing.
So I propose science fiction and fantasy writers go back to putting some mystery into their cosmologies. Does a catoblepas (a marvellous invention worthy of any 12th century bestiary) need to have this kind of description? ( http://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?articleid=10466) Why can’t it just be?